Parents sue Newhall School District over bullying allegation

Filler art of The Signal.

Parents of a Stevenson Ranch Elementary School student are suing the Newhall School District, alleging the district failed to prevent their child from being bullied by another student after years of complaints, and saying they hope their story and struggles will change school culture regarding bullying for the better. 

According to court documents originally submitted to the Chatsworth Courthouse in October 2021, Patrick Neville alleged the Newhall district failed to respond to multiple complaints by his son and himself to school administrators regarding ongoing bullying and harassment by another student.  

“Despite being on notice of these complaints and its statutory obligation to respond to such complaints in a timely and proper manner, and to take effective remedial action, defendant Newhall School District failed to do so,” read court documents submitted by William Crosby, the attorney representing the family. 

As a result of the bullying, his son suffered “continued severe” mental and emotional distress, anxiety, fear, depression, worry and impairment of his social and academic performance and development, the court documents allege. 

“At this time, I cannot comment on an ongoing case that is in litigation,” Superintendent Leticia Hernandez, who came into the position in fall 2022, wrote in an email to The Signal. “I can assure you that our intent is that all our students continue to be safe at school and find it a welcoming and supportive place to learn. 

“Student safety and wellbeing is essential for learning to take place and that is a priority at the Newhall School District,” she continued. 

The family asserted claims for violation of their son’s civil rights because the Newhall district failed to protect him and provide a safe, secure and peaceful educational environment as required by the U.S. Constitution and state law, the lawsuit alleges. 

The family is seeking compensatory damages, including general damages for severe mental and emotional distress and statutory attorneys’ fees.  

The district made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in early January, according to court documents in the case, which is now in California’s Central District of federal court. The case is set to continue in federal court unless both parties come to a settlement, Neville added. 

In an interview with The Signal, Neville said his son has a learning disability, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and he’s overweight, which may have been factors in the bullying back in 2017, when his son was in first grade. The bullying continued into 2022, he said.  

Depositions are scheduled to be taken this month, he added, and in April, both parties are scheduled to participate in mediation. 

Neville said school administrators in the 2016-17 school year placed his son in English as a Second Language Program without parental knowledge, and it wasn’t until the 2019-20 school year they found out. He believes this also contributed to the ostracization and shaming of his child. 

Neville shared a timeline with The Signal documenting various alleged incidents, both on and off campus, when his son reported being bullied.  

In 2017, his son first reported being bullied by a fellow student at Stevenson Ranch Elementary. Neville said he and his wife invited the student bullying their son to join Cub Scouts in hopes both children could develop a friendship.  

However, the bullying escalated, according to Neville. During a Pinewood Derby event, the other student destroyed Neville’s son’s car, according to Neville. 

In the following year, Neville’s son reported the other student stole and shared his Cub Scout journal with other Scouts. The student destroyed his journal and defaced his picture that was on the journal, according to Neville.  

Between 2019 and 2022, Neville’s son reported several incidents when the other student name-called him, stepped on his hand and made going to school miserable. In the 2020-21 school year, when districts across the nation transitioned to distance learning, Neville’s son thought he would get a break.  

But Neville’s son was placed in the same group of 25 kids with that student because school administrators allegedly failed to report any of the bullying incidents.  

In October 2021, the Newhall district sent a 19-page letter to Neville and his family with a copy of its uniform complaint procedures regarding Neville’s complaints of bullying. 

To summarize, the letter indicated there were no instances of bullying and that Neville’s son could not accurately describe incidents that he reported to his father.  

The letter said the district undertook a thorough investigation into Neville’s complaints over the course of several weeks, which included interviewing seven staff members at Stevenson Ranch Elementary; observing Neville’s son and the other student who had been accused of bullying his son during unstructured timed at the site; reading through emails between Neville and the principal at the time; a student file review; and performing a file review of Neville’s son’s report cards because Neville alleged the bullying affected his son academically.  

In their response, district officials said the record of the incidents was clouded because witnesses reported that Neville’s son “has difficulty accurately describing incidents. He is frequently unable to recall the correct sequence of events and may complain about an incident that occurred multiple school years before.” 

The letter added: “For example, [Neville’s son] would mistakenly report that an incident with [the bully] just occurred, but an investigation would reveal that [Neville’s son] was talking about a past incident in kindergarten or in first grade that had already been investigated and resolved.” 

Of the allegations of name calling, the district’s investigation indicated that both students called each other names.  

“The students were then given strategies on how to solve a problem without calling each other names,” according to the district’s letter.  

In addition, Stevenson Ranch Elementary administrators initiated several actions to help remedy the situation between the two students, according to the district’s letter, which includes assigning them different areas of the yard to keep them separated, monitoring the two students, staff making themselves available to engage with the students, and involving the parents. 

Ultimately, the district found “there was no need to report unsubstantiated reports of bullying to the compliance officer after a thorough investigation confirmed that no bullying occurred,” according to the letter given to Neville, and shared with The Signal. 

“School administrators and employees will continue to monitor, supervise and observe interactions between [the students] for the safety and well-being of both students,” read the letter from the district.  

Neville said his family moved to Stevenson Ranch in 2016, to a home near the elementary school. He and his wife made the decision to keep their child at the elementary school. 

“If my kid gets bullied and we are chased away, no, I don’t think that’s right,” Neville said. “I’m not going to back down to the bully. I’m here to make a difference.” 

Neville began this journey with his family – filing complaints, going down to the Chatsworth Courthouse, legal research and more.  

He said he’s spent hundreds of hours doing the work and now the legal fees will continue to climb. Neville expects to spend more than $20,000 or more moving forward.  

The case has weighed heavily on the family – emotionally and financially, Neville said. But his family continues onward because they hope to make a difference. 

“[My son] sees me acting this way and he feels protected,” Neville said. “I think that makes him feel better than he normally would.” 

“I think there’s a certain aspect of, ‘My parents are in the school all the time and my dad’s going to bat for me,’” he continued. “’Dad’s not going to let anything bad happen,’ so I think he feels a little bit protected.” 

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